The Three Lessons of Losing


Free kick

We just returned home from a weekend soccer tournament. Three games and no wins—one tie and two losses. The second game was a bad loss, one where none of us were quite sure what the final score was because we all stopped counting. It was the kind of game where the boys left the field confused and subdued, a few in tears.

Loss happens. And as much as I love those inspirational sports movies that always end in a victory, life is not like that. God’s philosophy on the subject does not match up with Charlie Sheen’s. (“Winning!” Really?)

I believe there are important lessons to be learned in losing.

First, it’s not about winning. This may sound like a cliché, but I think it’s something young athletes and especially their parents need constant reminding of. IT IS NOT ABOUT WINNING. My son is playing soccer to have fun, to exercise, to develop lifelong fitness and skills, to learn how to be a team player and enjoy camaraderie with his teammates, and for many more reasons. Yet as much as I tell him that, sometimes I forget.

Second, we’re not always going to win. God’s plan is not always for us to win, at least not the way we think of winning.

In our Bible studies we often focus on the times God gave victory to his chosen people, but there are many times when he allowed them to be defeated. A glaring example is, of course, the destruction of the Temple and the long Babylonian exile.

Our lives are not meant to be characterized by winning. Indeed, as my pastor reminded us the other day, one of the most repeated themes in the Bible is that we, God’s people, will suffer. That’s not something we talk about a lot.

God does promise, however, to be with us in the suffering. That is the third and most important lesson I want my children to learn from losing. God is with us, win or lose.

I learned a little about losing recently, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall while pregnant with my third child. It was for me a loss of health, a loss of the ability to breastfeed her and otherwise be a “normal” mom, and a loss of the illusion I unconsciously held that things like that just wouldn’t happen to me, at least not yet.

Yet in this loss, much good has been revealed. The loss and even the suffering of a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy and radiation treatment has given me so much more appreciation for the joy of having a newborn daughter. And God’s presence has been revealed to me in many mays, most notably through the presence, encouragement and support of his people, the wonderful community that has reached out to me and my family with open arms.

I know he was with me when I sobbed into my mother’s arms after getting that terrible phone call. He was here with me when the oncologist told me I’d need to have chemo and would not be able to resume breastfeeding as I had hoped, just as he was with me in those overwhelmingly joyful moments after my baby was safely born. He is always there. Sometimes it takes the refining fire of suffering to clear away the dross and illuminate his presence. losing

The other day at the baseball field I ran into a friend of mine who has also recently been diagnosed and gone through treatment for breast cancer. I was standing behind home plate waiting anxiously for my son’s playoff game to begin; her son’s game had just finished. losing

“You’d think with all we’ve gone through, we wouldn’t care about this, wouldn’t you?” she said with a smile.

Yet we do. There is a part of me that would like for my children never to lose at anything, never to hurt or to suffer, but thankfully there is also the more clear-eyed part of me that realizes what monstrous human beings such conditions would create. losing

At that soccer tournament, the boys also lost their third and final game, yet this loss was a little different. The team they played was by far their toughest opponent, and they’d come back to hold them to a 2-2 tied score for most of the game, only letting in the winning goal in the last few minutes. The boys had played well and fought hard, and they felt good about their performance. It was a vastly different mood than that following their loss the previous day.

Perhaps they were already starting to learn some lessons about losing.

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” Jesus told his followers (Matt 28:20).

We lose. We suffer. We learn. Most importantly, we learn that God is with us.


This post first appeared at

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